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COVID-19

Europe’s ‘alarming’ infection rates and shorter quarantine periods worry WHO chiefs

The European chapter of the World Health Organization on Thursday said it saw "alarming rates of transmission" of Covid-19 across the region and warned countries against shortening quarantine periods.

Europe's 'alarming' infection rates and shorter quarantine periods worry WHO chiefs
A Spanish health worker and volunteer of the SAMU Foundation forms the figure of a heart with her hands before entering the intensive care unit. AFP

The WHO's regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said the number of coronavirus cases seen in September “should serve as a wake-up call for all of us.”

“Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region,” he told an online press conference from Danish capital Copenhagen.

The health body also said it would not change its guidance calling for a 14-day quarantine period for anyone exposed to the novel coronavirus.

“Our quarantine recommendation of 14 days has been based on our understanding of the incubation period and transmission of the disease. We would only revise that on the basis of a change of our understanding of the science,” WHO Europe's senior emergency officer Catherine Smallwood said.

In France for instance, the recommended length for self-isolation in case of exposure has been reduced to seven days.

It is 10 days in the UK and Ireland, and several more European countries, such as Portugal and Croatia, are currently considering reducing their recommendations.

“Knowing the immense individual and societal impact even a slight reduction in the length of quarantine can have… I encourage countries of the region to make scientific due process with their experts and explore safe reduction options,” Kluge said, adding that the “concept of quarantine must be protected” and “continuously adapted.”

The 53 member states of WHO Europe have recorded nearly five million cases of Covid-19 and more than 227,000 related deaths, according to the organisation's own figures.

The number of daily cases recorded is currently between 40,000 and 50,000, comparable to a daily peak of 43,000 on April 1 — although testing in many countries has increased considerably.

A new record was set on September 11, with some 54,000 cases recorded in 24  hours.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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